not to have failed, certainly not as disastrously as the forward look often presages. Specifically, mankind has not "run out" of any critical resources. Working through the market and the play of prices that operate on both demand and supply, costs of primary resources have not risen relative to other goods and services. In many instances they have fallen, and yet larger numbers of people now not only live longer but also enjoy higher standards of living, however measured, than were open to their forebears.
Management and Resources
Not surprisingly, the complexity of the resources issue has given rise to two basic schools of thought: One is inclined to take a very long view and doubts that technology can be relied upon to help extend resources at a pace to stay abreast of population growth; the other infers from the history of the past hundred years or so that science and technology can provide the basis for new discoveries (e.g., ore bodies, fuel deposits) and substitutes (e.g., petrochemicals, nuclear energy) to keep a step ahead of the "Malthusian trap." But not even the most ardent adherents of the second school argue that, without reduction and ultimate leveling off of the rate of population growth, the Malthusian proposition can be dismissed (short, that is, of a total recycling of all depletable materials).
Neither of the two approaches is as clear-cut as here stated. For example, leaving aside discoveries and substitution, much can be gained from more rational management of supplies of resources. The same piece of soil, managed differently, can be the basis for vastly differing rates of agricultural output. Identical deposits can be made to yield greatly varying supplies of fuel. Rational management is a prime variable in the sustainable yield of a given stand of timber. And so on.
Though less obvious, management is just as important in affecting the demand for resources. "Wastefulness" is usually identified with specific techniques or conditions associated with production or output, but its implications on the demand side, though less noted, are no less notable. Production subsidies that stimulate consumption beyond the point to which it would be carried if prices reflected true costs are a common example.
More recently, a subtle but specific case of subsidization has come to plague the high income countries particularly. "Environmental pollution" results, in one of its major manifestations, from the failure of prices to reflect the social costs that producers (and thus also consumers) are able to impose on society as a whole. Typically this pollution is in the form of liquid or gaseous effluents, but it can also take other forms with adverse impacts on the landscape, living things, or other facets of the environment. These social costs are paid in a context removed from their origins. When prices do not reflect them, partially or fully, certain products are in a very real sense priced